In today's interview, she talks about the era she loves to write about, where she finds the details for her stories, and how she juggles a writing career with being a new mom.
Tracy, why do you think historicals--not just books but Downton Abbey, etc., are so popular right now?
TERESA GRANT: It's an interesting question. So many people I know love Downton Abbey - my editor and agent and I were just talking about it over lunch last week. I think on the one hand historicals provide an escape from the stresses of the modern world (another friend and I were debating whether Downtown Abbey stirs nostalgia or makes the untenable nature of the class system clear).
But I also think history offers a lot more than escape - as a history major, I often think of it as the ultimate social science. History has so much to say about everything from human interactions to politics and economics. I think historical fiction always says something about the era in which it's created as well as the era in which it is written. I think we're in the midst of a period of change now and both the Edwardian era/the Twenties and the Regency are times of change as well, so I don't think it's a coincidence that stories set in both those eras resonate now.
HALLIE: Why did you choose your particular period?
TRACY: It's an era on the cusp between the 18th century and the industrial era, between the classical and romantic eras, between the Les Liaisons Dangereuses generation and Victorian repression. Echoes of the French Revolution linger. The railroad is in its infancy. There's so much to explore from the Napoleonic Wars to social unrest to Beethoven, Turner, and the romantic poets.
HALLIE: Did you feel any qualms about taking on the Battle of Waterloo? And the real historical characters in the book?
TRACY: I was both excited and terrified to take on Waterloo. It's such an iconic historical event from the Duchess of Richmond's ball at which the British got the news that Napoleon had marched through the battle itself and its aftermath. I wrote about Waterloo in Shores of Desire, one of my historical romances, where the battle was a smaller part of the book than in Imperial Scandal. I'd wanted to explore it in more detail ever since.
But so many wonderful writers have dramatized the battle from Thackeray to Georgette Heyer to Bernard Cornwell that it was hard not to be intimidated. I had to remember that I was telling my version of the battle and the surrounding events, through the lens of this story and these characters.
I love weaving real historical characters into my books. I had particular fun with Lady Caroline Lamb, who actually wasn't in Brussels until after the battle in point of fact but who was such a wonderful foil for Cordelia Davenport, one of my fictional characters, that I couldn't resist including her. The Duke of Wellington, who you'd think might be intimidating, I actually find quite easy to write about - his dialogues comes quite easily to me.
One of the challenges of this book is that there are a number of historical characters, such as Wellington's aides-de-camp, about whom there isn't a large historical record. I tried to build fully realized characters on the information I had to work with.
HALLIE: The details of place and time are so evocative in your book. For example, you open a battle scene:
"Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them."Wow. How did you find those incredible sensory details?
TRACY: Thank you so much! I worked really hard to bring the battle scenes to life, so your comment means a lot to me.
I read a lot of letters and diaries and memoirs from people who were involved in the battle. I made notes of details mentioned and then tried to imagine what my characters would see, smell, hear, touch in the midst of the scene.
It's the same for a scene on a battlefield as in a ballroom, though with the battle scenes there was the added challenge of giving the reader a sense of the overall progress of the battle while at the same time writing from the POV of the characters who would mostly be experiencing chaos.The Waterloo scenes in Imperial Scandal are some of the most challenging I've ever written and also some of my favorites.
HALLIE: I know this is a weird question, but I've always been fascinated by the clothing of past eras, and the undergarments women had to wear to get into them. Did questions like this figure in your research for this book??
TRACY: Definitely. As I said above, the clothes are one of the things I love about this era. Malcolm and Suzanne, my investigative couple, do a lot of their talking about the mystery while getting ready to go out for the evening or undressing at night. Which means I have to know things like how dresses unfastens and corsets unlace.
I'm fortunate to have two writer friends who are wonderful fonts of information about early 19th century clothing, Candice Hern and Isobel Carr. Isobel helped me figure out the best kind of corset Suzanne could wear to allow her maximum freedom of motion in action scenes.
HALLIE: Your Facebook page features you with the most adorable baby. We all want to know, how do you juggle your time?
TRACY: I've become quite adept at writing with a baby on my lap :-). I'm lucky that my daughter Mélanie is very adaptable (I just took her to New York and she was a great traveler). I was actually able to get back to writing sooner than I expected after she was born.
She likes the stimulation of going out, so we spend a lot of time in cafés where she can look out the window, and I can write with a latte. I'm definitely better now at grabbing work time when i can. I've always liked to write late at night, and that still works well as she sleeps a lot then. And I've found nursing time is great for catching up on reading.
I think Malcolm and Suzanne will have their second child in the book I'm going to write next so I can put my hands-on baby research to use!
HALLIE: Thanks, Tracy! Tracy will be checking in today so please, share your thoughts and questions. What do you think makes us such suckers for period drama?